From students to professionals: Meet our Dell Young Leaders alumni

This blog is part of a series focused on the stories of our Dell Young Leaders alumni who have successfully transitioned from universities to meaningful employment. You can find the entire series here.

One cannot underestimate the transformative power that a university degree can have on the lives of low-income youth. Over the past eight years, the Dell Young Leaders team in South Africa has witnessed the life-changing impact of university completion on underserved young people, their families and communities. With over 200 graduates to date, our alumni are working across all sectors and regions in the country. These graduates started out as underdogs because of their financial aid status, but they are now progressing in their careers and have changed the trajectories of their lives. Today, they exceed the national earning average by 25 percent as benchmarked against leading graduate programs in the country. From buying a house, to helping their parents get an education, to sponsoring their families’ healthcare costs, they are giving back to their families and communities in incredible ways.

However, the promise of meaningful employment is not available to many young South Africans, and the story of an unemployed graduate sitting at home is told too often. Competition for relevant graduate-level work in South Africa is at its peak due to one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. It is for this reason that we knew measuring only degree attainment would not tell us if our students were successful. Job placement would have to be part of that equation.

Therefore, we continue to work with students to help them obtain employment after they graduate from university. This work includes end-to-end support, from helping them fill out job applications to preparing them for interviews, to working with corporations to conduct professional development workshops. With little to no frame of reference to the world of work, these students benefit immensely from having an advocate, mentor and supporter who can help them prepare for the expectations of their future employers. As a funder, filling even small gaps – whether it be an interview outfit, a taxi ride or just providing them with data to check their email –  helps students get one step closer to achieving their dreams. And this year, we are doubling our efforts on work readiness and placement to support more university students, working closely with higher education institutions, employers and other foundations to help build scalable and impactful solutions to best serve our students.

By the very nature of the program, we have a built-in, engaged community of students. But our program is made even richer by active and engaged alumni who take the time to share their experiences with us. They are paying forward the investment made in them not just by bettering the lives of their loved ones, but also by inspiring our current students and other young people across the country. Our alumni are evidence that nothing is impossible, and that your start in life doesn’t determine your destination.

To us, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing their stories; and, so we’d like to share them with you.  To that end, we have asked some of our alumni to share their journeys from university and beyond. We invite you to read more and join us in cheering on these future leaders with pride and excitement.